Texas Commissioner Kitzman Appears to Be on Way Out

AUSTIN, Texas -- According to two Senators here, it appears Eleanor Kitzman's services as insurance commissioner in Texas are no longer needed.

"She doesn't have the votes to get out of committee," says state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who is on the Senate Nominations Committee. "I'm not for her."

In fact, Watson says he "could have stopped" Kitzman's confirmation long ago but since Kitzman is a constituent, Watson says he allowed the process to play out. There is an unwritten rule in Texas--a senatorial courtesy--that if a member of the Senate has any issue with a nominee from his/her district for any reason, no one else will vote for the nominee. Kitzman is from Austin.

Watson approached the Senate floor before he could answer why he was against the commissioner.

Without the Senate's rubber stamp before the regular legislative session ends May 27, Kitzman would be forced to leave her office. Her term is up.

Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, says he, as late as May 21, has listened to "adamant" Senators for and against Kitzman, who was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Perry to take over for Mike Geeslin after he left the post midterm. However, no one, including Perry, appears ready to go to bat for Kitzman, who never made it on the committee agenda.

Without going into specifics, Hegar says those against Kitzman are upset with the "way [Kitzman has] handled some issues." Lawmakers have previously spoken about the commissioner's tendency to approve homeowners' rate hikes without much scrutiny.

Kitzman was a friend to the insurance industry in Texas. Mark Hanna, spokesman with the Insurance Council of Texas, says Kitzman "was one of our most experienced and knowledgeable commissioners."

"It is unfortunate that we will be losing her," Hanna adds.

Hegar, whose district includes coastal areas with homeowners unhappy about paying more for insurance, says the refusal to nominate Kitzman for another term is a bipartisan action. Hegar acknowledged Kitzman as a "hard worker" who has "done her best" with complex issues but regardless of who sits as insurance commissioner, "there is going to be significant criticism."

Kitzman, who was director of the South Carolina Department of Insurance before coming to Texas, appears to have not played politics in the Lone Star State well, according to sources. Hegar went so far as to says her nomination process fell prey to state "political issues."

Perry will nominate a new insurance commissioner, who will not face confirmation until the next legislative session. Texas lawmakers meet every other year. It is unclear if Perry will name an interim commissioner, or when he will do either.

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